The Missouri Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that Ellisville's red-light-camera ordinance violates state law. The ruling also suggests that similar laws in other municipalities are unenforceable.
When a driver gets busted by one of Ellisville's cameras for running a red light, the vehicle's owner -- not the driver -- is fined $100, according to the city's ordinance.
The court of appeals ruled today that punishing the owner instead of the driver goes against state law, which says rules apply "to drivers of vehicles and pedestrians."
"It's a decision that I know Missourians across the state have been waiting for," says Ryan Keane, who tried this case for the appellants with the Simon Law Firm. "It's holding the feet of [American Traffic Solutions Inc.] and municipalities like Ellisville to the fire, making them responsible for having camera programs that are not abusive and that are in compliance with state law."
The decision comes days after a judge dismissed a St. Peters woman's ticket because convictions based on red-light cameras don't result in penalty points -- a legal marker for a motoring offense -- added to a driver's license, which is a violation of state law.
The St. Peters case comes short of declaring what the court of appeals decided for Ellisville: that the entire ordinance violates state law.
"I think this could spell the beginning of the end for many red-light camera systems in the state that continue to abuse the laws that are put in place to protect Missouri drivers," Keane says.
But not so fast, says Jane Dueker, attorney for ATS, the Arizona-based firm that operates the cameras for Ellisville. Dueker notes that today's ruling contradicts the appellate court's 2011 ruling that upheld the constitutionality of the red-light cameras in Creve Coeur.
"No one panel [on the court] is stronger than another," says Dueker. "Now we have a conflict within the court, which is extremely rare and causes confusion. That said, today's ruling is not going to change any program. Cameras are not going away."
At worst, Dueker says, that the ruling will require a procedural change on the part of Ellisville law that allows for a "rebuttal of presumption" for car owners who claim they weren't driving when their car was ticketed.
Dueker says that ATS plans on asking the state's court of appeals to rehear the case. If that doesn't happen, the company will ask the Missouri Supreme Court to review the case and provide cities with standardized rules to follow. The state's highest court has only heard one case involving red-light cameras, and that suit did not touch on the core legal questions surrounding the devices.
Read the court's full decision after the jump.